How-to Guide

Click below for each step on the journey.



The reasons for obtaining a college degree are very personal. They may include professional growth, a new career, personal satisfaction in having completed a goal, or to be a role model. What are your goals?


A support network is critical to your degree completion. You’ll need people who believe in you, encourage you, and protect your time for studying and classes. Identify and locate your supporters at home, at work, and in your community. Ask your support network for help and line up the resources you need. Make a Reconnect Community Advisor a part of your support network, by contacting the Tennessee Reconnect Community.


Degrees can be obtained in many different ways! Options now include online, in-class and hybrids. Accelerated programs offer courses that last about six to eight weeks instead of full semester, but deliver the same amount of learning. Accelerated programs often have courses that start every five or seven weeks, so your courses may not run concurrently.


There are many affordable college options for adults in our region. Check out to start estimating the cost of attendance at public institutions in Tennessee. Your Community Advisor can help provide information about costs and loans.

Financial Aid Eligibility

Adults can and should apply for all federal and state financial aid grants and loans. To determine your eligibility and start the process, visit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) website at: Remember: FAFSA funds are replenished each year on January 1 and are allocated on a first come-first served basis, so it literally pays to file early. You will need to have your tax return completed before you file your FAFSA.

Defaulted Loans

If you have defaulted loans from previous college attendance, it doesn’t mean you cannot pursue returning to college. The Tennessee Student Assistance Corporation (TSAC)  can help you address your old college debt. Payments may be much lower than you expect. In addition to talking with your Reconnect Community Advisor, you can gain information regarding how to get out of default and back in the classroom by contacting the TSAC loan hotline at 1.800.317.6809.

Employer Assistance

Ask your employer if you are eligible for tuition benefits and reimbursements that can help you with tuition and related costs.


Financial Documents

You will need current and previous year tax returns for filing your FAFSA.


If you attended college in the past, those courses can be evaluated for credit this time around. Gather all transcripts from colleges you have attended in the past—no matter when and how long you attended. Sometimes colleges do not place time limits on transcripts. It’s best to collect them from all of your previous schools. Always request official copies, and, once you receive them, do not open them.


Prepare for your meeting with your college advisor by writing down questions that will help you make a decision, such as:

  • Total costs per course, per semester, and per year from start to finish
  • Majors, minors, and courses
  • Credits that will transfer into different degree options, including the number of transfer credits, and how, when, and where they will transfer into your program plan.
  • Time to degree completion
  • Time and delivery of courses: in class, online, day, evening, weekend

There are several tools to help you compare college choices. Tennessee Reconnect partner colleges are adult friendly institutions and offer options such as day, evening, weekend, online, and accelerated programs. Researching other institutions in Tennessee at allows you to see where your prior credits will make the most impact on your future studies. Create a profile to begin comparing your options.


Once you have found the college program that fits you best, commit to your future, and enroll!


Apply to the college(s) of your choice. Most colleges have an online application, but some require paper applications for specific programs.

Some colleges require applicants to test their skills prior to enrollment in order to qualify for college level courses. If you are required to take a test before taking a class, do consider preparing well in advance. You will be glad you did. Even a couple of hours of preparatory study can make a difference.

While you may need to refresh your skills in a developmental course, it’s best to minimize the number of these courses you have to take, as they do not accrue credit toward your degree.


Call and schedule a meeting with your college advisor at your school of choice to review all materials. Bring all your questions and the information you collected.


Congratulations! You are back in college!

Adult students have found these tips helpful:

  • Be aware of and meet all deadlines for registration, course selection, and ongoing tuition and fee payments. Don’t derail yourself by forgetting and missing an important deadline. If you must miss a deadline, talk to the appropriate department at your new college and explain your situation. Try to reach a mutually acceptable solution. Remember to file annually for financial aid and keep all related paperwork up to date.
  • Be sure to have your books in time for class. Online sellers and used books offer better prices than campus bookstores. Act early to find the best deals.
  • Identify and use campus resources: If the school offers an orientation, make sure to attend. Skipping orientation is a common mistake adults make. So much important information as well as shortcuts and tips are shared at orientation, and you might find people you know, or get to know people with the same goals and course schedule. Also, familiarize yourself with the library and tutoring center.
  • Meet with your college advisor at least once a semester to be sure you are on track with your program and coursework. Make sure you understand the required courses, course sequence, and credit requirements for your degree.
  • Develop a good relationship with your professors. Professors appreciate the perspectives adults bring to the classroom. Don’t be afraid to contribute! Contact your professors at office hours or by email if you need help.
  • Try an online course; you may find it gives you more flexibility with your schedule.
  • Monitor your financial aid status with your college financial aid office or the appropriate person at your college.
  • Remember to seek assistance from your support network if you need help. Your Tennessee Reconnect Community Advisor is always available to help answer any questions you may have, even once you’re enrolled

At this stage you are just around the corner from having the degree you worked so hard for. There are only a few items left to check off your list:

  • Order your cap and gown.
  • Ensure that all forms for graduation are completed and submitted by the deadlines.
  • Ask your professors for letters of reference.
  • Mark your graduation day on your calendar.
  • Enjoy graduation events and festivities.
  • Update your resume to reflect all the skills you’ve gained and things you’ve learned.

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